Detangling wild conspiracy theories about politicians convicted of child sex crimes

I'll say this up front so that there's zero confusion: Child sex trafficking is real, it's heinous, and it's been going on for a long time. Everyone who buys or sells a child or partakes in harming a child in any way should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. There is no place in civil society for people who sexually abuse children or who profit off of the abuse of children. Full stop. No question.

But we have careened into some twisted waters in our social discourse around child sex trafficking, to the point where the real issue of is being conflated with outrageous conspiracy theories that deflect from the real work being done to save children, put innocent people in harm's way, and interfere with the integrity of our elections.

I wrote about this issue recently and was met with accusations of being paid off by powerful pedophiles (ugh, seriously?), a flood of people saying "No, you're wrong!" while offering zero evidence, and a bunch of YouTube and Facebook videos that people seem to think are credible sources. I got fake screenshots of supposed Wikileaks emails that aren't actually on Wikileaks when you search for them. I got people who only listen to fringe outlets that have no oversight or accountability claiming that my well-cited, real news sources were a part of the whole conspiracy. All of that stuff I could ignore. Whackadoodles are gonna whackadoodle no matter how many facts you throw at them.

But I also got a few people sharing a list of nearly 100 politicians and other powerful people who have been convicted of child sex crimes. That was different, because it was factual.


There have been dozens of politicians who have been convicted of sex crimes involving children, and the list itself was accurate. (One particularly viral version of the list linked the people with Ghislaine Maxwell—that part is false, but the crimes are real.) Politifact, in a fact-check of the Facebook post, even put together a Google doc with a news story corroborating each one on the list.

However, that list is not evidence of some sort of global cabal of evil, pedophilic overlords who are engaged in coordinated rituals of child sacrifice and child sex trafficking.

When you see a list of name after name and crime after crime, it's easy to think "Wow, this is insane! So any politicians and powerful people are involved in this stuff!" It looks like a huge number. You have to scroll and scroll to get through all of those names and headlines. But let's put our ability to reason to good use here.

That list —which includes around 60 politicians and 30 people adjacent to politics—includes elected officials at the local level all the way up to the federal government. And as far as I can see, based on the news stories, the convictions take place as far back as 1983. So we're talking about 60 politicians over a span of 35+ years.

Do you know how many elected officials serve in the United States at any given time? Around 520,000. And over 35+ years, the total number individuals serving in those positions would actually be double or triple that number (or more) due to turnover (different people get elected, people retire, terms run out, etc.) But let's just go with a nice, round, safely conservative 520,000.

60 out of 520,000 is 0.012%. That's twelve-thousandths of a percent.

Of course, there are people who never get caught, much less convicted. So let's say there were twice as many politician pedophile abusers as actually get caught. That would still only be 0.024%.

But let's say it's way bigger than that. Let's say that there are actually ten times more pedophile politicians than the number who have been caught. Even then, that would be 0.12% at most. Twelve-hundredths of a percent.

Considering the estimates for pedophilia (depending on what ages are included) range from 1% to 5%, it doesn't appear that politicians are any more likely than anyone in the general population to be pedophiles.

And how about those 30 who were not elected officials at all, but activists, donors, celebrities, and more? The list included people like Harvey Weinstein (who was a slimy sexual predator, but no evidence of being a pedophile), director Roman Polanski, Jared Fogle the Subway guy, radio host Ben Ward, some anti-abortion activists, a few political aides, a campaign chairman, a Christian Coalition leader, a pastor, and others.

If you take the categories those other people belong to—political aides and activists, celebrities, Christian leaders, etc. who are politically active—and add up all of the well-known people who fit those categories, what percent are these 30 people do you suppose? My guess is a tiny fraction, similar to the politicians.

There is no doubt that there are powerful people who abuse children. There is no doubt that there are famous people who abuse children. There is no doubt that there are people at every strata of society who abuse children. And though most sexual abuse is perpetrated by friends and family of the abused, there are definitely organized child trafficking operations. There are also legitimate questions about the extent to which individuals in Jeffrey Epstein's social sphere were involved with his own well-documented sexual escapades with young teenage girls.


But none of that equals a secret Satanic child sex trafficking ring involving ritual child sacrifice among America's most powerful politicians and celebrities using "pizza" as a code word for children. (And yes, I've searched the Wikileaks emails and read the pizza references. It's literally just people talking about eating pizza, like all of us do.) The idea that high-profile people with full-time jobs who live their lives with a spotlight shined on them are spending their limited spare time running underground child abuse rings and using official email channels to secretly discuss pedophilic torture is just ludicrous on its face.

Yet the conspiracy theorists say, "Connect the dots!" But that's exactly the problem. Anyone can connect disconnected dots to create whatever picture they want. That's how we ended up with constellations named after animals and mythical gods, despite not really looking anything like the things they are named after. Conspiracy theories are like constellations—loosely constructed connections, blanks filled in with imaginary lines, and shapes that require you to ignore everything that interferes with the picture you're trying to paint.

For instance, the sheer number of people who would have to be "in on" something like the Pizzagate theory makes it mind-bogglingly impossible. Let's start just with the media element. I know that the QAnon people have convinced their followers that "the media" can't be trusted, but the media is not one monolithic thing. "All mainstream media outlets are owned by four giant corporations!" I've been told. Well, no, that's not actually true. But lets pretend that it is. The nature of corporations in a capitalist system is competition, right? So those media corporations would be in competition with each other, each one vying to break big news first. If there truly were news legs to something like Pizzagate, don't you think one of them would have picked it up by now?

How about the politicians who pay investigators good money for opposition research so they can smear each other all the time over every little thing? Wouldn't those in opposition to those who are supposedly part of this Satanic child sex trafficking cult be turning them in to the authorities if there were truth to it? Why, after four years, is all the Pizzagate "evidence" still confined to internet chatrooms and random YouTube videos and Twitter posts?

And how about law enforcement? Surely after four years, and with all the evidence people claim exists, law enforcement would be taking action against these people. And yet the Washington DC Metro Police Department has called Pizzagate "a fictitious online conspiracy theory." Are they in on it too?

So people actually believe that huge numbers of politicians, celebrities, the media, corporations that own the media, and law enforcement are all part of some big web of conspiracy to traffick and hurt children? This, despite the fact that the many organizations that have been battling actual child sex trafficking for years and years have yet to endorse any of these outrageous theories?

This post by a woman who founded an organization that specializes in child welfare within the entertainment industry thoroughly addresses the vast majority of the false info floating around out there, differentiating between the nuggets of truth (which are always present in a conspiracy theory) and the many falsehoods. Politically-motivated individuals and groups are working overtime to get people sharing this garbage, so we have to counter it by spreading real, verified information far and wide as much as possible.

Child sex trafficking is an important issue, but it's not new and it's not what the Pizzagate and other theories describe. Getting attention on the issue is important, but not at the expense of truth. Kooky conspiracy theories pull vital resources and energy away from the real work being done to battle it and do real harm to people whose names get caught up in the web of it all. (Read this account by the man who owns Comet Ping Pong, the basementless pizza parlor where the Pizzagate sex trafficking ring was supposedly being run out of its basement.) This stuff is not harmless and it needs to be called out for the garbage it is.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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